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The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages Hardcover – 15 Oct 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society (15 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426204612
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426204616
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.5 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 882,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

“"The Last Speakers" opens our eyes and hearts to the human realities of language loss. If you plan to read just one book on language this year, make it this one.”—David Crystal, author of" Language Death"
 
“This wonderful book is really three wonderful books wrapped into one: a world travelogue of languages; a moving personal account of the last speakers of vanishing languages; and a revelation of the knowledge tied to each language. Perhaps you’re among the many people who think, ‘Wouldn’t we better off with just a few major languages? Let those thousands of little local languages disappear.’ After reading this book you’ll know why all those little local languages do matter, and what can be done to save them.”—Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and "Collapse"
 
"Harrison has found new ways of looking at endangered l

""The Last Speakers" opens our eyes and hearts to the human realities of language loss. If you plan to read just one book on language this year, make it this one."--David Crystal, author of" Language Death"
"This wonderful book is really three wonderful books wrapped into one: a world travelogue of languages; a moving personal account of the last speakers of vanishing languages; and a revelation of the knowledge tied to each language. Perhaps you're among the many people who think, 'Wouldn't we better off with just a few major languages? Let those thousands of little local languages disappear.' After reading this book you'll know why all those little local languages do matter, and what can be done to save them."--Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and "Collapse"
"Harrison has found new ways of looking at endangered languages, developing the concept of a language hotspot, and so focusing on the kind of interactions that make up a language ecology. This book gives an inkling of the radical ways in which endangered languages may yet inspire and enrich the understanding of people all over the world, and so find a new and nobler value in globalization."--Nicholas Ostler, author of "Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World"
"K. David Harrison is a language warrior, defending the world's linguistic minorities by speaking simply and eloquently of their dilemma--language loss."--Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages
"What K. David Harrison calls 'landscape awareness' is deeply embedded cultural knowledge that many indigenous peoples, currently residing in their homelands throughout the world, have kept alive for centuries through daily conversation. He is one of the few non-indigenous people to experience it first-hand and to understand it. He articulates it well, in particular, for the Tuvan people an

"The Last Speakers" opens our eyes and hearts to the human realities of language loss. If you plan to read just one book on language this year, make it this one. David Crystal, author of" Language Death"
This wonderful book is really three wonderful books wrapped into one: a world travelogue of languages; a moving personal account of the last speakers of vanishing languages; and a revelation of the knowledge tied to each language. Perhaps you re among the many people who think, Wouldn t we better off with just a few major languages? Let those thousands of little local languages disappear. After reading this book you ll know why all those little local languages do matter, and what can be done to save them. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA andPulitzer Prize-winning author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and "Collapse"
"Harrison has found new ways of looking at endangered languages, developing the concept of a language hotspot, and so focusing on the kind of interactions that make up a language ecology. This book gives an inkling of the radical ways in which endangered languages may yet inspire and enrich the understanding of people all over the world, and so find a new and nobler value in globalization." Nicholas Ostler, author of "Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World"
K. David Harrison is a language warrior, defending the world s linguistic minorities by speaking simply and eloquently of their dilemma language loss. Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages
What K. David Harrison calls landscape awareness is deeply embedded cultural knowledge that many indigenous peoples, currently residing in their homelands throughout the world, have kept alive for centuries through daily conversation. He is one of the few non-indigenous people to experience it first-hand and to understand it. He articulates it well, in particular, for the Tuvan people and others, to whom he kept his solemn promise to tell people outside their world that they exist and are well. In terms of language loss, many are not doing well, simply due to the fact, as the author eloquently points out, the cultural knowledge encoded in their languages is about survival. When that is lost, how can they survive? This question looms large for the rest of humanity, according to the author. This is a book that should be read by both indigenous and non-indigenous language warriors for the sake of human survival. Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages
This chronicle is as much an homage to noble elders who often struggle to surmount indifference in their own communities as it is an op-ed by the author, who sounds the alarm among a skeptical public, and even other scientists, about the incalculable loss posed by a language's extinction. "The Washington Post""

The Last Speakers opens our eyes and hearts to the human realities of language loss. If you plan to read just one book on language this year, make it this one. David Crystal, author of Language Death
This wonderful book is really three wonderful books wrapped into one: a world travelogue of languages; a moving personal account of the last speakers of vanishing languages; and a revelation of the knowledge tied to each language. Perhaps you re among the many people who think, Wouldn t we better off with just a few major languages? Let those thousands of little local languages disappear. After reading this book you ll know why all those little local languages do matter, and what can be done to save them. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA andPulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse
"Harrison has found new ways of looking at endangered languages, developing the concept of a language hotspot, and so focusing on the kind of interactions that make up a language ecology. This book gives an inkling of the radical ways in which endangered languages may yet inspire and enrich the understanding of people all over the world, and so find a new and nobler value in globalization." Nicholas Ostler, author of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
K. David Harrison is a language warrior, defending the world s linguistic minorities by speaking simply and eloquently of their dilemma language loss. Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages
What K. David Harrison calls landscape awareness is deeply embedded cultural knowledge that many indigenous peoples, currently residing in their homelands throughout the world, have kept alive for centuries through daily conversation. He is one of the few non-indigenous people to experience it first-hand and to understand it. He articulates it well, in particular, for the Tuvan people and others, to whom he kept his solemn promise to tell people outside their world that they exist and are well. In terms of language loss, many are not doing well, simply due to the fact, as the author eloquently points out, the cultural knowledge encoded in their languages is about survival. When that is lost, how can they survive? This question looms large for the rest of humanity, according to the author. This is a book that should be read by both indigenous and non-indigenous language warriors for the sake of human survival. Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages
This chronicle is as much an homage to noble elders who often struggle to surmount indifference in their own communities as it is an op-ed by the author, who sounds the alarm among a skeptical public, and even other scientists, about the incalculable loss posed by a language's extinction. The Washington Post"

"The Last Speakers opens our eyes and hearts to the human realities of language loss. If you plan to read just one book on language this year, make it this one."--David Crystal, author of Language Death

"This wonderful book is really three wonderful books wrapped into one: a world travelogue of languages; a moving personal account of the last speakers of vanishing languages; and a revelation of the knowledge tied to each language. Perhaps you're among the many people who think, 'Wouldn't we better off with just a few major languages? Let those thousands of little local languages disappear.' After reading this book you'll know why all those little local languages do matter, and what can be done to save them."--Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

"Harrison has found new ways of looking at endangered languages, developing the concept of a language hotspot, and so focusing on the kind of interactions that make up a language ecology. This book gives an inkling of the radical ways in which endangered languages may yet inspire and enrich the understanding of people all over the world, and so find a new and nobler value in globalization."--Nicholas Ostler, author of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

"K. David Harrison is a language warrior, defending the world's linguistic minorities by speaking simply and eloquently of their dilemma--language loss."--Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages

"What K. David Harrison calls 'landscape awareness' is deeply embedded cultural knowledge that many indigenous peoples, currently residing in their homelands throughout the world, have kept alive for centuries through daily conversation. He is one of the few non-indigenous people to experience it first-hand and to understand it. He articulates it well, in particular, for the Tuvan people and others, to whom he kept his solemn promise to tell people outside their world that they exist and are well. In terms of language loss, many are not doing well, simply due to the fact, as the author eloquently points out, the cultural knowledge encoded in their languages is about survival. When that is lost, how can they survive? This question looms large for the rest of humanity, according to the author. This is a book that should be read by both indigenous and non-indigenous language warriors for the sake of human survival."--Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala Sioux Tribe, lecturer at Stanford University in special languages

"This chronicle is as much an homage to noble elders who often struggle to surmount indifference in their own communities as it is an op-ed by the author, who sounds the alarm among a skeptical public, and even other scientists, about the incalculable loss posed by a language's extinction." -The Washington Post

About the Author

K. David Harrison is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Swarthmore College. As a linguist and specialist in Siberian Turkic languages, he has spent many months in Siberia and Mongolia studying the languages and traditions of nomadic herders. Harrison's work includes not only scientific descriptions of languages, but also storybooks, translations and digital archives for native speaker communities. Harrison makes frequent appearances before college, high school, and other public audiences

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very interesting book and very good service from the book seller.
it is really interesting to read it and to discover more about languages
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very interesting indeed.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 17 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Overall, a good book. 15 Nov. 2013
By S. D. Farver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harrison does a really great job of laying out the problems many indigenous languages in the world face, which those outside the field of linguistics may not be aware of. His overview of language learning is good as well, and I appreciate how he explains complex language ideas to the reader in a way that is simple, yet not "dumbed down."

The only qualm I had with the book was that it seemed to come across very "Indiana Jones-y" at times--Harrison has a great point to make; that there are many languages and cultures in danger of being lost if there are not some sort of revitalization efforts, but sometimes it came off to me a bit hero-ish--almost as if Harrison was the super linguist swooping in to save these people and their language. Perhaps that vibe comes because the places these languages are spoken typically are very far off the beaten path, or perhaps because his research and this project in particular is supported by National Geographic. Even the subtitle, though, seemed like that of an upcoming Indy movie ("The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages). Don't get me wrong, it is a great book for anyone who is interested in learning more about endangered languages, but there were too many times when I got the feeling it was more about him and his "quest" of documenting languages on the verge of death than of helping cultures develop strategies to revitalize their endangered languages.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Valuable Contribution by Harrison 20 Oct. 2011
By G. B. Talovich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Readers of When Languages Die will find much familiar in this book, but Last Speakers, published by National Geographic, will probably reach a much wider audience. And wider recognition is what is needed now.

The Last Speakers is carefully written and thought out, but lively and fascinating to read. I could barely put it down. The only thing that disappointed me about the book was that I could not hear what the languages sound like; I think books like this should come with CDs. However, poking around on YouTube, I was very happy to find the Enduring Voices channel, with videos of many of these endangered languages.

Also, I was saddened by some of the photos. How distinctive these people look in their traditional dress! and how that is lost when they put on Western clothes and follow global trends. The same with their languages.

I was appalled by Dr John McWhorter's idea that "some languages are not suited for the modern world because of their complexity." If that is the case, English should be the first to go! It's easy for you and me, but try explaining to someone that you can say "pick up the book" or "pick the book up," but only "pick it up" and not "pick up it." And you can say, "I'm looking for the book," but you can't say "I'm looking the book for." Why not? You can say "The car is picking up speed," but you can't say "The car is picking speed up." Consider "up." Walk up the stairs, write it up (or write it down), phone me up, look it up, a friend turned up so I put him up for the night, and he should give up smoking, but if you bring up the topic, he might say oh please shut up!

"I bought the book last year; I have had the book for a year." This is torturously difficult to explain to Chinese speakers, because in Chinese, it makes perfect sense to say "How long have you bought the book?" but nobody would say "How long have you had the book?" If you will be so kind, please explain how to use "the."

Once you get it into your hand, Chinese (traditional characters) is much easier to write than English, and lots more fun. You may write the wrong character entirely (such as, here for hear), but rarely write the word wrong. I have taught English for 35 years, but I still have to peek to write manage - manageable, response - responsible. So if complex languages are to be discarded, English goes first!

But back to endangered languages. This is a topic close to my heart, because I speak some Tayal and Tsou and bits and pieces of a couple other Taiwan aborigine languages. Did you notice Taiwan on the Language Hotspot map? For what it's worth, I am doing my best to see that these ancient, enthralling languages do not disappear, and books like The Last Speakers are a great help and encouragement, and not only for me. I can take this book, published by the internationally prestigious National Geographic Society, and point out Taiwan on the map and say, See? Your language is valued!

It's not all bad news. Last Sunday, I went to watch a play staged in downtown Taipei performed almost entirely in the Tsou language, and on Thursday took a Tayal tribal elder to watch this year's biggest box office hit, Seediq Bale (about a Taiwan aborigine uprising in 1930 against the Japanese; look for the trailer on YouTube), in which the main characters all speak Seediq. Then on Saturday in one of Taipei's main bookstores, I picked up a book (or picked a book up) about traditional Yami songs, complete with MP3, including such old favorites as The Toothache Song. The last couple of days, I have been amusing myself learning to sing The Hero Song in Truku. So there is good news, but we have a long way to go, and books like The Last Speakers contribute immensely to the effort. Thank you, Dr Harrison! And thank all of you concerned readers.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun, insightful read 7 Dec. 2010
By Daniel W. Hieber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
K. David Harrison has made yet another excellent contribution to the endangered language cause with this book. THE LAST SPEAKERS is an intimate and honest account of Harrison's path to endangered language work, interwoven with his own thoughts on the mainstream trends in linguistics today. Harrison has an elegant, persuasive style, and imbues his stories with tiny details that bring them to life and make them a joy to read. Harrison's fieldwork is a constant process of discovery about the world around him and a richening of the mind, which he shares unabashedly with the reader.

What I appreciate most about this book is Harrison's unapologetic yet humble presentation of his views, for which he has received much criticism, particularly for what many see as a conflation between linguistic knowledge and cultural knowledge. But Harrison has never tried to deny that he cares about more than just the languages he studies. For him, WHAT speakers are saying is just as important as the morphemes they say it with. In contrast to the many criticisms that have been leveled against him, it is clear that he understands there is a difference between knowledge of a language and knowledge of the world, and that the loss of a language doesn't necessarily mean loss of knowledge. But this misses the very point Harrison has worked so tirelessly to get across in all his works - that languages are intimately bound to the culture and environment they stem from. One cannot fully appreciate a language without understanding its cultural and environmental contexts.

In all, I found this to be an insightful book and a fun read, and I would recommend it without reservation to anyone.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New approach 17 Jan. 2014
By Kimberley Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A new look at linguistics and the effect on our sustainability. The approach and background are worth the read. I was captured by this book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good and meaningful 15 Jan. 2013
By Enkidu360 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pros:
Spotlights the plight of endangered languages.
Interesting stories and details of speakers of endangered languages.

Cons:
Read it once; have not had the desire to re-read it.
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